If you followed along on Facebook and Instagram last month, you know I spent a week with family friends in Doha, Qatar. It was a unique experience because it’s one thing to travel to a new place, something else to travel to a new place solo, and yet another to actually live with locals. I got to learn so many customs and details that I never would have learned on my own or even if I’d been traveling with someone else. And I’m letting you in on all those things, too!
I visited in summer, so the kids were out of school, it was hot (and would soon get even hotter), and the sun started coming up before 4:00am! I’m glad I brought my eye mask because that morning sun was bright! You sleep when you can, you go to a museum or mall (for the air conditioning!) in the morning, you nap in the afternoon, and you do the outdoor things at night.
Also, all the homes I visited in Qatar employ a maid who helps with the kids, cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc. This is very common in Qatar, but it’s the first time I ever went anywhere that there was a maid on staff all the time!
Qarati families, at least the families I met, are very close. There are usually a lot of kids, and then a lot of grandkids, and they do a lot of things all together! A bunch of us were either piling into the car for a new adventure, piling out of the car after a crazy adventure (they always let me have the first shower upon returning—maybe because I stunk the most!), or piling onto the floor for a family-style meal! I was actually supposed to share a room and a bed with my friend Janna, but they ended up letting me have the room to myself!
But I think she really did like me! Look, we’re having fun!
Interestingly, if my husband had made the trip with me, we would need to stay at a hotel instead of with my friends. This is because women can only remove their abaya and head coverings when they are with other women or close family members. My husband is neither of those, so they would have to be covered all the time!
Taking meals with a Qatari family was a ton of fun, and always incredibly flavorful. I got to watch my friend Sharifa’s mom make Arabic dishes while she talked with her kids and watched their babies, and then I got to eat all the wonderful food she made! They roll out a big plastic sheet, put all the food out on it—sometimes with plates for every, sometimes not!—and everyone digs in—sometimes with utensils, sometimes not!
Arabic people often eat with their hands, and they were surprised when this Southern girl didn’t have a problem with that! (Well, except when it was super hot!) Another custom you might need to know if you find yourself eating with a Qatari family is that the guest will never finish last. Even if everyone else is finished eating, someone from the family will stay with the guest until they finish their meal, because it would be rude to leave the guest by themselves at the table. Good thing I’m a fast eater! I’m pretty sure no one was ever waiting on me!
Aside from the kindness of never making me finish a meal alone, I also experienced a lot of other kindnesses and hospitality. In two of the homes we visited, the hostesses burned a traditional Arabic incense called oud (pronounced “ood”) to scent our clothes and hair.
The incense is burned in a mabkhara, or incense burner that looks like this:
All of us ladies were welcomed to a house party with jasmine necklaces and bracelets. They smelled wonderful!
And some of the most fun I had was in the desert with the Assaf family. Not only did they take me on a grand and exciting adventure in the Arabian desert, not only did we do some death-defy sand-dune driving, we also got to ride four wheelers on the dunes, swim in the Arabian Gulf, and my favorite… ride a camel!
We listened to American country music in the car (along with awesome Arabic music, too!), they asked me questions about my life in the United States, and we all just had fun getting to know each other. They really showed me a great time and made me feel like one of the family!
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